Written by John Michaelson
AUSTIN - A new approach to school nutrition goes nationwide next year, and the shift is expected to reduce the number of Texas students who otherwise don't get enough to eat each day.
Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative called a "community eligibility option," said Rachel Cooper, senior policy analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Texas, if a high percentage of a school's students are low-income, all students can receive free meals.
"Next year it will be nationwide, so Texas schools can start adopting community eligibility starting for the next school year," she said. "We have hundreds of schools that are eligible in Texas, and so we need to start spreading the word and getting them ready."
Cooper said the timing of community eligibility coincides with Texas' new state law that will require low-income schools to offer universal breakfast.
"Community eligibility is a great thing for schools to consider also," Cooper said, "because it'll help them in the administration of the breakfast program, provide the meals for no cost, gets rid of all the paperwork and ups the number of kids who get breakfasts and lunches."
In places where community eligibility already has been implemented, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Food Research and Action Center called it a success. Report co-author Madeleine Levin said it's now in about 2,000 schools in a handful of states, and the number of kids receiving meals has more than doubled.
"They saw that it really benefited the students. They were able to feed a lot more students, and to work out the changes," she said, "and they were able to get the amount of reimbursement they need to break even in their school meal programs."
The report said schools also benefit by not having to spend staff time collecting money from students, or written applications from families for free or low-cost meals for their children.
In Texas, it's estimated that hunger affects one in five children.
The report and an implementation guide are online at www.frac.org.